Through the outskirts

Almost precisely as you’d expect,
it's the wires’ thickening cross-hatch
across pocked tarmac, stained render,
comes closest to local authority boundaries.
Or, approached another way, the pale
concrete sweep of southerly ring-road
with its phalanx of 50s council housing,
TV dishes and double-glazing sun-glints:
the cusp of a city that will draw you in
through misnamed, treeless avenues
(Boer War victories, bird species, poets)
or up and over railway bridges,
past gravelled yards, construction sites,
the terraces’ gradual narrowing
to these fin-de-siècle cul-de-sacs.
With buddleia and footpaths
gathering to allotments, mesh gates,
there are marram grass patches,
sunk culverts’ mossy blockages,
and a security guard, arms akimbo,
pacing limits of occupied land.

From here then, best move on
through burnt ochre cars relapsing
to spare parts, domestic whims expressed
as pebbledash frontage, garden gnomes
and koi carp winking dirty orange
in the glaucous eye of a pond.
These, too, are part of the city:
indented chalk vale, schoolyard,
billboard, improvised belonging –
left around for decades in one place,
we’re hardly more at home than Russian vine
or this branch of Lidl opening late
beneath defaced factory buildings
and scaffolders joking, on overtime.
At a guess, it will only be months
before we no longer recognise
reconfigured thoroughfares,
arrangements of girders and plate-glass.

Tom Phillips, 2011